CONAKRY (Guinea) • A famous Guinean singer who was among 170 people taken hostage on Friday by gunmen in the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the capital of neighbouring Mali, said he heard attackers in the next room speaking in English.
"I heard them say in English, 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'," singer Sekouba "Bambino" Diabate, who was freed by Malian security forces, said in Conakry. "I wasn't able to see them because in these kinds of situations it's hard."
An unknown number of gunmen, perhaps four or five, took "about 100 hostages" at the beginning of the siege, said General Didier Dacko of the Malian army.
Several dozen hotel guests, many of them crying, including women, children and older people, had begun streaming out of the hotel after hiding in their rooms, said Mr Amadou Sidibe, a local reporter at the scene. Two members of the Malian security forces were wounded by shots fired from the seventh floor of the hotel, he said.
Colonel-Major Salif Traore, the minister of security and civil protection, said the military had evacuated around 30 people from the hotel and taken them to a gymnasium nearby. According to the operators of the hotel, 125 guests and 13 employees were in the building at their last tally yesterday.
I ask our nationals in sensitive countries to take precautions.
Life must go on for the economic activity and development in these countries, but it's important in such situations to think about security.
FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
I heard them say in English, 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'.
GUINEAN SINGER SEKOUBA 'BAMBINO' DIABATE, who was hiding under a bed when he overheard two assailants speaking in the next room
VEHICLE HAD DIPLOMATIC PLATES
They were driving a vehicle with diplomatic plates. You know how easy that is at the hotel? The guards just lifted the barrier.
MR KAMISSOKO LASSINE, chief pastry chef at the Radisson Blu hotel
You have got kind of a copycat situation at the moment following the incidents that have been seen in Paris and elsewhere.
DR JAKKIE CILLIERS, executive director at the Pretoria- based Institute for Security Studies
MALI AUTHORITIES STRUGGLING
In the past year, there have been growing signs of Islamist activities also outside Mali's volatile northern region, including an attack on a restaurant in Bamako in March, and the Malian authorities are struggling to contain the threat posed by terrorist outfits.
MR BJORN DAHLIN VAN WEES, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit
A United States Defence official said 12 to 15 Americans were believed to be at the hotel when the gunmen first arrived. Six US citizens have been recovered safely from the hotel, he said. The status of the others was not clear.
US Special Operations forces "are currently assisting hostage recovery efforts", Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for the US Africa Command, said yesterday. "US forces have helped move civilians to secure locations, as Malian forces work to clear the hotel of hostile gunmen."
The West African nation has long struggled with insurrection and Islamist extremism.
Northern Mali fell under the control of rebels and militants in 2012. A French-led offensive ousted them in 2013, but remnants of the militant groups have staged a number of attacks on United Nations peacekeepers and Malian forces. Hundreds of French soldiers remain in the country.
The Radisson Blu hotel is a popular place for foreigners to stay in Bamako, a city with a population approaching two million, and French citizens were among those taken hostage.
Germany's Foreign Ministry said that two Germans were among the hostages who had been released from the hotel.
Four Belgians were registered in the hotel, said a Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman, but their situation was unknown.
A diplomat at the Chinese embassy in Bamako said that eight Chinese business people had been trapped in the hotel as well. Embassy officials at the scene were in touch with some of the Chinese hostages via WeChat, a Chinese messaging service, the diplomat said.
Later, China's national broadcaster, CCTV, reported that four of the Chinese citizens had been freed.
About 20 Indian citizens were also in the hotel at the time of the attack but were evacuated safely, the Indian ambassador to Mali said.
The security forces were moving through the hotel, floor by floor, freeing hostages as they went, Col-Maj Traore added. Some of the people who fled the hotel were not wearing any clothes as they were taken to a police station.
"We were just evacuated from the hotel by security forces," one hostage who made it to safety told France24 television. "I saw bodies in the lobby. What is happening right now is really horrible."
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS